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'India is wise to pursue a diplomatic strategy'

January 12, 2009
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's repeated statement that India is keeping all options open is widely interpreted to mean that India has not ruled out war. With Pakistan moving its troops to the eastern frontier and India presumably being under domestic pressure to act firmly against Islamabad, do you see the situation deteriorating into a war in the near future?

Right now the odds are not in favour of a fourth war, or even a fifth crisis, but these things can change very quickly. In the book I recently co-authored with P R Chari and Pervaiz I Cheema, (Four Crises and a Peace Process: American Engagement in South Asia), we observed that every major India-Pakistan crisis featured one or more serious intelligence errors, one or more strategic miscalculations by either India or Pakistan or the United States, or all three.

India is wise to pursue a diplomatic strategy, and especially to talk to China, Saudi Arabia, the US and other countries, all of which have an interest in a stable and peaceful Pakistan and are concerned about terrorist movements based in that country.

India's task was somewhat easier since nationals from 22 countries were killed in Mumbai, and even the United Nations has responded. Pakistanis dismiss any approach from India out of hand, but they cannot ignore the combined weight of these and other countries and international institutions. So I don't see a war, but there is a slow-growing crisis, and I would not rule out 'war by other means' in the future, and of course, another terrorist attack could precipitate a serious conflict as happened in 2001-2002.

Senator John McCain said the other day that 'The Indians are on the verge of some kind of attack on Pakistan.' How seriously one should take such comments?

I have no idea where he got his information, but it is in India's interest to make it appear that such an attack may be imminent, precisely to get the US and other countries to put more pressure on Pakistan. This is the pattern that India followed in the Kargil and during the 2001-2002 crisis, but of course it is a tactic that Pakistan has also used in the past.

Image: An NSG commando during the operation at Mumbai's Nariman House. Photograph: Rajesh Karkera

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